Dr. James Simon President of Hilfsverein Reaches 80th. Birthday
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Dr. James Simon President of Hilfsverein Reaches 80th. Birthday

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All the newspapers here devote pages to-day to the 80th. birthday, which occurs to-morrow, of Dr. James Simon, the President of the Hilfsverein der deutschen Juden since it was founded over thirty years ago, and one of the outstanding men in German and in world Jewry, as well as a distinguished figure in German life generally.

Congratulations are pouring in on him from Jewish and non-Jewish organisation and from the outstanding people in Germany, both Jews and non-Jews. In recognition of his immense gifts to the national art galleries and the archeological museums of Berlin, a bronze bust of Dr. Simon was unveiled to-day in the State Museum, and a commemoration slab was put up in the Berlin Museum of Egyptology. The German Orient Society, whose important excavations at El-Amara he financed, has created a James Simon Fund for the purpose of continuing the excavations there, started on his initiative and with his funds, which have already resulted in bringing to Berlin some of the most renowned examples of ancient Egyptian art, Dr. Simon’s gift to the city. Among these is the world-famous bust of Queen Nephreteta, wife of the Pharoah Amenophis IV. and mother-in-law of Tut-ankh-Amen, of which the British Museum has a copy, and reproductions of which are widely spread throughout the world.


The “Berliner, Tageblatt” publishes an article by the famous poet and art critic Adolph Donath, who writes:

If Wilhelm von Bode (Germany’s greatest art authority) were still alive, he would have declared tomorrow, when James Simon becomes 80 years of age, that the Berlin museums have no nobler friend that this James Simon, and that his name is closely linked with the development of our art institutions, and with the achievements of German art and archeology. The history of Berlin knows no second case of such self-sacrificing work in the interest of its museums and of the Community at large. Wilhelm von Bode described him as an illuminating example, and he repeatedly praised his old friend James Simon for having had the courage and the great understanding to present his treasures to the museums. The James Simon gifts, he declares, have contributed immensely to the world fame enjoyed now by our Berlin museums.

In the “C. V. Zeitung”, the organ of the Union of German Citizens of Jewish Faith, Dr. Ernst Feder writes:

James Simon was one of the few merchant princes in a monarchy which had many merchant princes, and he is a merchant prince still in the Republic in which many have no yet realised the special duties to the State which are the obligation of its leading men; he is a model of the citizen who knows and does his duty to the State.

The Kaiser, whom he met through his friend, Admiral Hollman, sought his company for he knew that James Simon wanted nothing from him and that with him, too, it was James Simon who was the one to give. He refused all outward shows and honours. He laughed at it when the rumour once went round in Berlin that he had been raised to be a Privy Councillor, with the title of Excellency. He refused orders and titles, and elevation to the nobility which were open to him, but he was proud of the honorary doctorate which the art connoisseurs and art lovers of Berlin University conferred upon him as a rare distinction. The congratulations which are pouring in on this youthful octagenarian go to show what a proud possession such a man is to the land to which he belongs, and to German Jewry from which he has sprung, and among whose most important representatives he is numbered.

The “Berliner Zeitung-am-Mittag” writes:

At the turn of the century, Simon was known as the friend of the Kaiser. It is true that this merchant of the Kloster Strasse enjoyed the special favour of the monarch, but he bore it with a modesty behind which there was a great deal of pride and determination never to exploit it, and although he was often offered nobility, he resolutely refused it. When it was announced in 1904 that he was to be raised to the Upper House of the German Parliament, and an outcry was started because he is a Jew, he immediately informed the powers that be that he declined the honour, which they intended to pay him.


The Hilfsverein der deutschen Juden, where head he has remained from the first day of its foundation till the present day, has on the initiative of Herr Max Warburg, established a James Simon Endowment Fund of the Hilfsverein, to which his friends and admirers, members of the Hilfsverein, and various organisations have sent contributions for the purpose of perpetuating the work of the Hilfsverein in commemoration of its President’s 80th. birthday.

At the last annual meeting of the Hilfsverein der deutschen Juden, which was devoted largely to surveying the 30 years of its activity, Herr Max Warburg delivered an impressive speech in which he expressed his admiration of the great work that had been done by Dr. James Simon, and said that all German Jewry and all the Jewries of the world that had benefited by the work of the Hilfsverein had reason to be grateful to Dr. Simon, to whom it owed its existence.

Dr. James Simon, who was born in Berlin on September 17th., 1851, succeeded his father as the head of one of the largest wool concerns in the world – the firm of Simon Brothers of Berlin. As such he played a prominent part in German economic life, and was for many years Vice-President of the Berlin Chamber of Commerce, and a member of the Board of Directors of the Reichsbank.


In the midst of his business activities, he found time to devote himself to the study of art and he quickly made his reputation as one of the most informed authorities on art, and one of the biggest donors to the German national art collections.

He presented to the Kaiser Friedrich Museum his collection of Old Masters of the Italian Renaissance, bronzes, medals, coins, etc., which are displayed in the James Simon Room of the Museum. He also presented to it his famous collection of German wood sculptures and Gobeline.

He was one of the founders of the German Orient Society in 1898, and he contributed largely towards the financing of its excavations in Mesopotamia, in Babylon, in 1898 – 1912, in Ashur in 1902 – 14; in Palestine, at Jericho and on the site of the ancient synagogues of Galilee, in Egypt, at Abusir, near Cairo, at Abusir el Meneg, at El Amarna, in 1908 – 14, and in Asia Minor, at Boghazkoi.

It was at El-Amarna that the famous Nephreteta bust was found. Together with the other objects found there, it was brought to Berlin shortly before the outbreak of the war, and the various exhibits were to have been placed in the Egyptian Department of the Berlin Archeological Museum. Owing to the war, however, the building of the pavilion was stopped and the cases remained unpacked until the end of the war. It came as a surprise when the cases were unpacked at the end of the war, and the value of the finds was realised. The Egyptian Government intervened, demanding that Dr. James Simon should return to it the Nepheteta bust, and when he refused to do this, the matter was taken to the Peace Conference at Versailles, the Egyptian Government demanding that the bust should be delivered up by Germany as part of the war payments. The Egyptian claim failed, however, and the bust has remained in the possession of the German people. When King Faud was in Europe in 1929 it was stated that he had gone to Berlin specially to see Dr. James Simon, and persuade him to accede to the Egyptian demand.


Before the war Dr. James Simon was counted as one of the twelve wealthiest men in Germany. His fortune was estimated at about 50 million Marks, and his firm was considered one of the largest textile firms in all Europe.

Since the war, however, the firm has been very hard hit, and Dr. James Simon, and his partner and cousin, the late Dr. Eduard Simon, had to make heavy sacrifices to keep it going. In August 1929, the situation became desperate, and Dr. Eduard Simon, feeling that he could no longer save it from collapse committed suicide.

As one of the wealthiest Jews in Germany, and feeling his responsibility towards the Jewish populations of the East European countries, Dr. James Simon got together in 1901 with Herr Eugen Landau, who is still Vice-President of the Hilfsverein, and with the late Dr. Paul Nathan, and the result was the establishment of the Hilfsverein. He had before that already been active in a number of Jewish welfare institutions in Germany. He was one of the founders of the Technical High School in Haifa, and until the end of 1929, he was a member of the Council of the Jewish Colonisation Association (Ica).

It is in the Hilfsverein der deutschen Juden that Dr. James Simon has done his most important work. He helped France, England, America and other countries had their representative Jewish bodies conducting a systematic social and cultural relief work on behalf of the Jewish masses of Eastern Europe and the Orient who were suffering from political and economic oppression, there was no such organisation yet in Germany. The Hilfsverin under his leadership threw itself into the educational work in Palestine and in the other countries of the Near East, it organised emigrant welfare activity in Germany, and conducted a large-scale relief work during the pogroms in Russia and Roumania, during the Balkan War of 1912-13, and especially during the Great War, when it did a great deal to alleviate the condition of the Jewish masses in the countries occupied by the German armies Dr. James Simon visited a number of places where Jews were suffering as a result of the war operations, and with the help of the German occupation authorities was able to assist them considerably.

He also took very seriously his duties as a member of the Council of the Jewish Colonisation Association (Ica), and until his advancing age made it necessary for him to resign two years ago, he regularly attended the meetings of the Council and took an active part in its great work on behalf of the Jewish populations of the Argentine, Brazil, Palestine, Poland, Bessarabia and the many other countries in which the Ica conducts its activities.

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